(Associated Press file photo)

(Associated Press file photo)

Gimme a Smile: To every chocolate there is a season

Chocolate makes the world go ‘round. From day to day, season to season, chocolate is a constant. Sometimes sweet, sometimes savory, chocolate always plays well with others. We find it paired with such diverse ingredients as coconut, peanut butter, salt, or that other ubiquitous foodstuff, bacon. We can always count on chocolate.

Our experience of chocolate varies depending on the season. In January, the natural human desire for chocolate is overshadowed by the peer-pressured act of making New Year’s Resolutions, which often involve plans to lose weight. For some unknown reason, giving up chocolate seems like the best way to achieve those goals. Then Valentine’s Day rolls around, and we abandon those ill-fated resolutions.

One of the major chocolate events of the year, Valentine’s Day ushers in bite-sized chocolates bursting with creamy fillings of more or less desirability, enshrined in a luxurious heart-shaped box, the bigger the better. Chocolate lovers live for Valentine’s Day. The only downside is the fact that the chocolates are supposed to come as a gift from a romantic interest. That expectation generates a lot of unnecessary angst. If there is no beloved, or if that person fails to come through, Valentine’s Day is ruined. Don’t fall for that old canard. We can buy those classy hearts full of chocolate for ourselves, without heartache. Think of it as self-care.

Once Valentine’s Day is over, chocolate remorse sets in. We’ve failed in our goal of eliminating chocolate in the New Year by falling into Valentine’s Day excess. Luckily, we get a second chance during Lent. Giving up chocolate for Lent is a time-honored practice of giving up something we love as a form of spiritual fasting. The 40 days of Lent may seem like a lifetime, but unlike with New Year’s resolutions, giving up chocolate for Lent has an end date — Easter. It’s no coincidence that the Easter Bunny brings chocolate eggs, giving the faithful a chance to make up for lost time.

Summer finally comes, bringing warm temperatures that for some reason we want to augment with campfires. Summer chocolate comes in the form of s’mores. The urge to slap a gooey marshmallow between slabs of melting milk chocolate becomes a primal force in the summertime.

When fall hits, chocolate enters a season of rapid-fire holidays, beginning with Halloween. Halloween brings tiny bars of individually wrapped chocolates just right for kids to pop into their mouths before Mom makes them sort through their loot. Happy is the child who has a neighbor who hands out the full-sized chocolate bars designed to keep little ones up all night. Halloween chocolate may not be of the highest quality, but it’s free. All kids have to do is dress up in cute or scary costumes and repeat a stock phrase while holding out their sacks. Couldn’t be easier!

Surprisingly, Thanksgiving feasts don’t usually feature chocolate. Thanksgiving is all about pumpkin pie and apple cider. Kids might rightly suspect that their moms are trying to entice them to eat their fruits and vegetables after the sugar and caffeine frenzy of Halloween.

Once Thanksgiving is safely out of the way, chocolate takes center stage again during the cold winter months. The mystique of hot chocolate on a snowy winter day is embedded in our national consciousness. Add some crumbles of peppermint candy for the perfect hand and heart-warming beverage.

With the winter holidays, the stores are jingling and jangling with shopping purpose. Everywhere we look, enticing sweets call out to us, packaged in baskets and gift sets that motivate us to add extra names to our gift-giving lists. These may be the same chocolates we’ve been drooling over all along, but somehow, they look better at this time of year. Credit the sparkly wrappers and cool names like “Winter Wonderland” or “Santa’s Sweetshop.” True, we’re going to throw away the wrappers when we gobble up the chocolate, but the calm voice of reason has no place in the holiday shopping experience. “I came, I saw chocolate, I bought it.” That’s what it’s all about.

The chocolate indulgence of the winter holidays leads straight into the New Year, and the cycle begins again. To every chocolate, there is a season. Enjoy!

• Peggy McKee Barnhill is a wife, mother, and author who writes cozy mysteries under the pen name “Greta McKennan.” She likes to look at the bright side of life.

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